Wake up to the Wild (the Wildly Good!)

By Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson will be leading Mindful Hiking: Waking Up to the Wild, July 31–August 3; and Waking Up to the Wild: Nature Walks, September 12–14.

As this spring unfolds, I’m struck by the environmental and social changes happening world-wide.  It feels like each of us is being called to search deep inside and decide how we’re going to take better care of ourselves, each other, and the earth.

The combination of mindfulness-awareness practice with time in nature is the proverbial one-two punch for our health and well-being as well as for our ability to live in harmony with each other and the planet.  Nature provides valuable lessons for how we can live our lives in healthy balance if we pay attention to them.  When we synchronize our bodies and mind in nature with mindfulness practices, we develop a deeper understanding of that balance.  We can train ourselves to continue to open to a bigger perspective and that state of openness, vitality, and potential that exists within all of us.

We’re making technological advancements faster than we can imagine, yet getting through the day seems to be becoming more and more of a struggle.  As a culture, it seems that we’ve come to a phase where we’re often engaging in activity for the sake of activity.  Many of us are working most all the time and find ourselves engaged in frenetic activity like it’s somehow necessary to legitimize our existence.  In many office environments it’s a competition to see who’s the last one to leave at the end of the day.  Suddenly we’re working 12-14 hour days with little to no mandated vacation and we wonder why we’re so stressed-out.  We’ve forgotten how to simply live.

SMC The Land O'Hern - Print7Photo by Karen O’Hern

We all possess a basic goodness.  It’s not something that we have to get from outside ourselves or that is only achievable once we’ve worked a certain number of hours or demonstrated a certain skill or attribute.  It’s who we already are – basically (or unconditionally) good.  When we shift our perspective from a focus on problems to seeing the solutions that already exist, we come to trust that basic goodness in ourselves, each other, and our society.  Then we naturally know how to take the best care of ourselves and when, where, and how to best lend a helping hand.

From time to time in my busy urban life, I come to a place where I feel a general dis-ease.  I can’t quite put my finger on a particular reason why and I’m confused about what to do.  I’m in the habit of looking for problems in my environment and not noticing what’s right in my life.  I feel kind of  “off” and I know I’m not alone.  We have become what John Muir described as “tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people.”  The good news is that our “medicine” is waiting for us in nature.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto by Greg Smith

Psychological research in recent decades suggests that spending time in nature improves cognition, relieves anxiety and depression, and even boosts empathy.  It certainly helps, but it’s actually not enough to just exercise outside.  Many of us go out with an iPod or phone attached to our arm or spend most of our time there rehashing the day at work and/or strategies for the future of a budding romance or how to get our kids to clean their room.  Like me, have you ever planned a wonderful hike and spent days looking forward to it’s reality only to find yourself a mile down the trail before you finally realize where you are?  This is where mindfulness meditation helps us to strengthen our ability to fully be where we are, to actually fully inhabit our bodies, and to let our senses wake us up and our hearts soften.

We can make it part of our essential routine to disconnect from the screens and the “treadmill” of our daily lives and venture into the wild.  Even for me here in the heart of Oakland, that doesn’t take more than a 15-minute bike ride into a park in the hills to really feel the fresh air and sunshine on my face.  I can simply let myself be and in doing so remind myself that I am enough as is.  It really is that simple.  Coming together to practice “waking up in the wild” as a group is an excellent way to affirm this commitment to our basic well-being and to create positive change for our collective future.

Join me this summer for another opportunity to wake up to the wild (the wildly good!) both outside and in.  Bring a family member or friend.  Let’s slow down, step outside, look up, let go of the push to be somewhere other than where we are, and appreciate the richness that’s already here.

Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson will be leading Mindful Hiking: Waking Up to the Wild, July 31–August 3; and Waking Up to the Wild: Nature Walks, September 12–14.  To learn more and to register, please click here and here.

Interview: Waking Up to the Wild with Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson will be leading Mindful Hiking: Waking Up to the Wild, July 31-August 3; and Waking Up to the Wild: Nature Walks, September 12-14

Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson

Like trees in the forest or fish in the sea, we have an innate ability to live in greater harmony with our environment. While trying to navigate our busy, high-tech world, we can develop habits of mind that leave us feeling disconnected and unfulfilled. Delving deeply into the practice of mindfulness/awareness in nature, we turn our attention toward the subtle interplay of our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and sense perceptions and rediscover how we can open to our fundamental interconnection to all things. Rather than always needing to change where we work, live, or who we love, we can change our relationship to these aspects of our lives in a way that brings us greater happiness and contentment.

Later this summer, psychotherapist, wilderness guide, and Shambhala meditation instructor Kay Peterson will be leading two nourishing retreats–one hiking and the other walking (lower impact)– here in the powerful natural environment of Shambhala Mountain Center.  Recently, Kay took some time to discuss the importance of tapping into the natural world, and how doing so can benefit our daily lives.

Enjoy this interview below, and to learn more about the upcoming retreat, please click here.

Spring at 8,000 Feet

by Jared Leveille

Jared Leveille is the Land Steward of Shambhala Mountain Center.  

Photo by Greg Smith

The invigorating quality of spring is making itself evident throughout the land. Bright green grasses and many-hued wildflowers are breaking through last year’s decay, birds are calling for the rising sun, and the creeks are full with the rush476102_10150631565777304_1792262271_o (1) of snowmelt. We all feel the season brimming with possibility and renewal. I heard the first rumble of thunder a moment ago, off a ways, and listen as it reverberates across the valley– speaking a promise of rain, which is so precious in this arid climate. There is a tingling in my skin as I breathe the crisp air in the fading light.

My first few land crew volunteers have arrived, and I love experiencing our mountain valley anew through their fresh eyes. We have a lot of projects to work on, but know how precious it is to have the opportunity to really get our hands dirty– to touch the earth.

PasqualFlowersI encourage you to visit the land stewardship’s new Facebook page - Shambhala Mountain- Friends of the Land. With it, I’ll try to keep everyone up to speed on things I’m working on, share some of the beauty I come across during my days, post a daily picture of the land, and perhaps, at times, ask for support and help with particular projects. It is not possible for a single person to properly steward the land. Expanding awareness can help us all play a part in the protection of this fragile environment. We can foster a deeper sense of community through recognizing we are not separate from the spring’s emergence, from the urgency of change–and that the earth is indeed a part of us.

Some springtime inspired listening…

 

Top photo by Greg Smith

Bottom photo by Paul Bennett

Rediscovering the Place of Nature

By Martin Ogle

Martin Ogle recently lead  the weekend program”Engaging the Rhythms of our Living Earth” and is one of the main organizers of the Four Seasons Program.

Martin Ogle

Martin Ogle

The weekend retreat, “Engaging the Rhythms of our Living Earth,” was a delightful experience for me.  It not only provided the opportunity to share ideas of profound interest to me, but also to learn from the perspectives of a marvelous group of participants and from the land and history of Shambhala Mountain Center:  A long-time Shambalian and genetics professor offered insights into the synergy of science and spirituality.  Artists and poets shared moving reflections on the beauty and mystery of the land.  And, the symbolism of the Great Stupa blended seamlessly with our inquiry into how our human lives can be in synchronicity or discord with the rhythms of nature.  I believe these insights – and the retreat’s purpose of re-discovering the pace of Nature in scientific, spiritual and mindful ways – set a marvelous foundation for SMC’s Four Seasons Program.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

Photo by Greg Smith

The name,”Four Seasons Program,” itself, provides powerful links between exploring and celebrating the land of SMC and the ongoing inquiry into the nature of the human mind.  The circle and four directions motif, found in the Buddhist Mandala (and Stupa), is a universal symbol that reflects our human relationship to Earth and the Universe.  The labrynths of the British Isles, the Hopi Earth Mother symbol and Zia Sun Symbol are other examples.  There is a real need for the traditional lessons of basic goodness and mindfulness that SMC has provided for decades.  Couched in the context of our human relationship to our living planet, these lessons take on even greater significance. ​

To learn more about the Four Seasons Program and view some upcoming retreats in this series, please click here.

Deepening Our Connection: SMC’s Land Steward on the Four Seasons Program

By Jared Leveille

Jared Leveille is the Land Steward of Shambhala Mountain Center.  

Jared Leveille

Jared Leveille

2014 is an exciting year for environmentally based programming, and it got off to a great start in March with Martin Ogle‘s program “Gaia: Engaging the Rhythms of our Living Earth“.  As a participant of the weekend, I was thrilled to help engage the group in closer observation of the land as we explored storytelling, solo observation points in nature, art, symbology and journaling.  The Gaia Theory- which describes the earth as a single living system depending upon a myriad of contributory relationships, interactions and processes shares an interesting common thread with a major tenet of Buddhist philosophy- interdependence- which surmises that all phenomena, human life included, exists in mutual dependence upon one another.  Among the group were scientists, educators, environmentalists and nature lovers and each one of us had something important and relevant to share over the weekend, which seemed to support the ideas we were delving into.

Exploring Trees and Wildflowers‘, our next program in the Four Seasons series, will be held in June and will be hosted by a trio of teachers who each have a unique and profound connection to the natural world.  This program will have more of a bioregional flair, and we will be examining plant communities that flourish here on our 700 acre property, as well as learning about some of their cultural and historical uses.

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Photo by Greg Smith

In developing a series of environmental programs here at Shambhala Mountain Center, we hope to rekindle a sense of respect and reverence for the earth, as well as renew the delight and freshness we feel when we can deepen our connection and understanding.  When I am out on the land, everything I encounter, whether it be a newly emerged wildflower, a rushing creek, or a dead pine tree, is a teaching.  Before we can help our world, first we all must find ways to develop a more profound relationship, a kinship, with the natural environment.  Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche joyfully reminds us – “Look.  This is your world!  You can’t not look.  There is no other world.  This is your world; it is your feast.  You inherited this; you inherited these eyeballs; you inherited this world of color.  Look at the greatness of the whole thing.  Look!  Don’t hesitate – look!  Open your eyes.  Don’t blink, and look, look – look further.”

To learn more about the SMC land, and keep up with what the natural world is up to, follow Jared’s Friends of the Land page on Facebook. 

Engaging the Rhythms of Our Living Earth Part 2

By Martin Ogle

Martin-Ogle-La-Plata-PeakMartin Ogle will be leading Gaia: Engaging the Rhythms of Our Living Earth, March 21-23

In the previous blog post, I briefly introduced the scientific view of Earth as a living system. In the quest to Engage the Rhythms of our Living Planet, let us expand our exploration . . .

When James Lovelock returned to England from working with NASA, a friend and neighbor was none other than William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies. Upon hearing Lovelock’s ruminations of a living planet, Golding urged his friend to name the idea “Gaia,” after the Greek Goddess of Earth. He felt this would honor the fact that Western science was rediscovering what ancient Western Culture held sensed mythically: that Earth is alive and that we are a part of her life. The mythical connection reminded us, that the human mind has, indeed, co-evolved seamlessly with a living Earth.

When, in the distant past, ancestral humans crossed a threshold of mental development to acquire self-awareness and awareness of time similar to that of modern humans, they must have been terrified! The awareness that they were going to die and the plaguing wonderment of why they were alive were surely the origin of what we now call “religion.” Our present-day religions, mythologies and stories surely echo and mirror our ancestors’ original explanations of these matters!

Since that ancestral time, the sudden breadth of our awareness has produced a tendency to mentally speed up and “get ahead of ourselves” unlike anywhere else in nature. Although our minds are natural emanations of Earth, the level and kind of our awareness of self and time are fundamentally unique. The discrepancy between the pace of nature and the pace and of the human mind is the source of much of our unhappiness and discontent. And, whereas non-human nature is purposeless, the human mind is often the hostage of purpose and meaning.

This is not to say that purpose and meaning are bad things (nor, could they be, for they are just part of our human nature). As a biological adaptation, a sense of purpose is a marvelous thing – it allows us to foresee and prepare for circumstances in the future that would otherwise harm us or even do us in. Thus, the question is not whether our awareness is inherently good or bad, but whether it goes too far. Knowing the human mind as emerging from a living, evolving planet allows us to consciously re-link with its rhythms allowing a harmony between our intellect and senses.

In his book From Eros to Gaia (1988) Princeton physicist, Freeman Dyson, intoned that “One hopeful sign of sanity in modern society is the popularity of the idea of Gaia, invented by James Lovelock to personify our living planet.” He believed that “As humanity moves into the future and takes control of its evolution, our first priority must be to preserve our emotional bond to Gaia.” In a 1994 speech The New Measure of Man, Former Czech President, Vaclav Havel cited the Gaia Hypothesis as one of the biggest reasons for this hope because it both confirmed and was anticipated by the myths, stories and religions of peoples around the world that saw human life as “anchored in the Earth and the universe.”

These words, and those of many other recognized figures from around the world, help create a reasoned premise that linking our intellect and our senses in a single “Gaian context”planet is a healthy and enjoyable way to be present in this world. I look forward to joining with you and others in March to explore this new territory through story, science, contemplation, art, and walks through the beauty of Shambhala Mountain Center.

~~~

Be sure to listen our recent interview with Martin Ogle, available to stream and download HERE

Martin Ogle will be leading Gaia: Engaging the Rhythms of Our Living Earth, March 21-23. To learn more, CLICK HERE

Engaging the Rhythms of our Living Earth Part 1

By Martin Ogle

Martin Ogle will be leading Gaia: Engaging the Rhythms of Our Living Earth, March 21-23

Martin-Ogle-La-Plata-PeakIn essence, this upcoming retreat will explore how our human mind perceives and fits in with where it came from! If we accept that our physical bodies evolved from this planet, it is a short leap to understanding our minds as originating from the same source. We are the conscious awareness of Earth! In this, the first-of-two blog posts, I introduce the scientific idea of Earth as a living system, setting the foundation for a second installment that will more fully tie our human awareness to rhythms of our planet.

In the 1960s, NASA wanted to know if there was life on Mars, yet a Mars mission was still decades away. The agency hired James Lovelock, a British chemist, doctor and inventor to look into it. Lovelock decided on a simple test, one that could be done from Earth. Studying Mars with a spectrophotometer, he observed that it had an inert atmosphere (one in which “nothing was happening”), and concluded that Mars was lifeless.

Mulling over his research, however, Lovelock realized that the nature of his atmospheric test had more to say about a planet as a whole than about the presence or absence of living organisms. Although he found the Martian atmosphere to be inert, Lovelock knew Earth’s atmosphere was wildly active – alive! This suggested to Lovelock that Earth is not just a planet with life on it, but is a single, living system. He was soon joined by American microbiologist, Lynn Margulis who saw that early evolution of microorganisms – and all subsequent evolution – involved both natural selection and symbiosis that resulted in a living system.

Lovelock, Margulis and colleagues amassed research that showed organic and inorganic parts and processes of Earth were tightly coupled as a living system that has greatly moderated global temperature, atmospheric content, ocean salinity, and other factors. The maintenance of oxygen at around 20% of the atmosphere and ocean salinity at about 35 parts per thousand over millions of years are examples. To find out more about this science, visit GaiaTheory.org.

Although all signs point to our being part of a living planet, our modern cultural stories do not reflect this. Our language and actions suggest that we consider ourselves separate from the rest of nature, and that nature, itself, operates like a machine rather than a living being. The disparity between these underlying cultural stories and what our senses tell us creates great confusion. Our minds go off on tangents that are not reflective of or compatible with the way that life works. In the next installment, I will propose that Engaging the Rhythms of our Living Earth involves re-linking our intellectual and sensual perceptions of our living planet.

Be sure to listen our recent interview with Martin Ogle, available to stream and download HERE

Martin Ogle will be leading Gaia: Engaging the Rhythms of Our Living Earth, March 21-23. To learn more, CLICK HERE

Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Couple

by Keith Kachtick
relationshipsIn Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke makes clear that a loving, romantic relationship is the practice for which all other mindfulness practices are the groundwork. “Love is high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become world for himself for another’s sake.” The ancient Tibetan tantric practice of Yab-Yum recognizes that romantic coupling is as an opportunity for profound spiritual awakening, a practice that invites us—deeply challenges us—to love our way to enlightenment.

Traditionally, in Buddhist thangkas and sculptures depicting Yab-Yum, the confluence of “masculine” compassion and “feminine” wisdom is presented metaphorically in the sexual union of a male deity, seated in Padmasana (lotus pose), with his female consort facing him on his lap. The symbolism is two-fold: Yab-Yum (literally “father-mother” in Tibetan) implies a mystical union within our own individual nature—the two Dharma wings that lift each of us to buddhahood; united, the two awakened beings (regardless of gender) then give birth to a romantic communion embodying the blissful, non-dual state of enlightenment.

Much easier said than done, of course. But for anyone in a committed relationship, the Yab-Yum ideal of unconditional love—borne out of opening our hearts and fine-tuning our communication skills, as well as deepening our understanding of our partner’s needs and desires—is an opportunity and wonderful challenge to recognize and celebrate the highest in ourselves and in each other.

Ultimately, it’s all about soulful harmonizing. “We know little, but that we must hold to what is difficult is a certainty that will not forsake us,” Rilke reminds us. “It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult. That something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it. To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. This more human love resembles that which we have prepared for with struggle and toil all our lives: a love that consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute one another.”

Keith Kachtick and his partner Camilla Figueroa will be teaching the retreat Loving Your Way to Enlightenment: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Couple September 13-15

The Lady Who Runs

By Cynthia MacKay

Cynthia MacKay will be leading a retreat at SMC from August 30-September 2 based on Sakyong Miphams book ,Running with the Mind of Meditation: Lessons for Training the Body and the Mind. Geared for runners, walkers and athletes, this program will offer fresh insights into the activities of meditation and movement. All levels of runners and walkers welcome.

Cynthia runs past Dodgers stadiumIn my neighborhood, there’s The Corn Guy, The Lady With the Boxers, The Couple Who Live in the Victorian and The Korean Grocer. I am The Lady Who Runs. My neighborhood in east LA is called Lincoln Heights. It sits in the shadow of Dodger Stadium, just north of Downtown. People don’t think of Los Angeles as a good place to hill train, run trails and stay off the paved streets but Lincoln Heights is just that. I can run in any of the four directions and have a very different feeling from each run.  

North

On Saturdays, I head north. Saturdays are my long runs and from my house I can get 18 plus miles in on both paved and dirt trails. I have to run through my neighborhood for about 1 1/2 miles to get to the LA River Bike Trail. Once on the Bike Trail, it’s a flat, long, traffic-free 7 1/2 miles to Burbank.

running past sign

There are rare sections of the LA River that are not encased in concrete. A 3 1/2 mile stretch along the Bike Trail is filled with beautiful greenery and a myriad of birds. Families can be seen fishing and wading in the river. The bike trail runs smack next to the busy 5 freeway, so on one side is incredible greenery and the other side cars are whizzing by.

the trail

There are several bridges going over and under into Griffith Park, where there are over 4,300 acres of parkland and trails.

South

the road

Wednesdays are my hill runs and for that I go south. Ernest E. Debs Regional Park is a small city park, only about 300 acres, with an Audobon Center near the bottom. There are several extreme hills that I slog up and down. The view from the top goes all the way out to the ocean over the downtown skyline in one direction and the valleys leading up to the heaving San Gabriel Mountains in another direction.

stretching

Once at the top, it’s a short run to a pond where people may be fishing, ducks may be swimming or dogs lapping at the shore. Snails climb the skinny spindly weeds and hang there in the breeze waiting for the next rain.

path with river

From the pond, it’s a steep downhill on the other side with views of the valley floor south with its endless rows of houses and small hills.

East

I go east on Mondays. I descend into a small tributary of the LA River that comes from the east and handles runoff from the San Gabriels. It’s encased in concrete up until the Rose Bowl where it opens to dirt rivers and shaded ponds. A paved trail runs right next to the small stream of flowing water. After about 3 miles, the small river trail ends at a horse stable with chickens running around and a huge fig tree stocked with delicious fruits in September. I pick up a small dirt trail around a golf course, this and the all white horse running in the corral, are my favorite parts of this run.

eastern path

It’s a single person trail and perfectly rolling so that I can speed up but still have to be mindful of my footing. It’s engulfed in trees so it’s very cool and quiet on a summer morning.

There is a tunnel under the 110 freeway that I call “the bardo.” It’s dark and the sandy earth is loose, so I can’t tell what I’m running on. I raise my gaze to the light at the end and trust that I will remain upright and relaxed. A tinge of fear mixes with confidence as I exit the tunnel and head towards the Rose Bowl in the Arroyo Seco. The Arroyo Seco boasts an archery range, a bass casting pond, another horse stable and several flocks of wild parrots who make a noisy ruckus among the archers and horses.

West

On Tuesdays, I go west. It’s a high dose of both urban and natural beauty. I’ve discovered a stairwell that goes up into the 110 freeway, the first freeway built in the west. There was originally a walkway that has now been sectioned off with fencing and barriers but the stairwell leads into the old walkway.

the stairwell

I run smack next to the cars on the busy 110. It’s a mash of freeways, bridges going over bridges, over freeways and over the LA River. Train tracks run through the whole mess and everything is covered in graffiti. There is something about it that grips a buzzing energy for me–it’s gritty, real and completely alive to all my senses.

western run

The stairwell exits into Elysian Park, home of Dodger Stadium and the Police Academy. Up a few hills and into trails, I head up a steep dirt track that turns east.

On some days I hear the patter of many feet as I come out of one trail to cross to another. Coming down the hill will be the in-line, strong formation of police cadets in training, running these hills in unison in perfect time with perfect posture. They greet me one by one with “good morning ma’am.” It’s very sweet.

I turn to head home through some more dirt trails and across the historic Broadway Bridge, once again crossing the incredible pulsing artery of our city, the LA River.

the bridge run

 

Way Seeking Mind: A Meditation and Yoga Retreat for Women

by Katharine Kaufman

open pavilionI offer a women’s retreat twice a year, on the hottest, longest days in the middle of summer, and the coldest, dark winter days. I see myself as more of a facilitator of this retreat, rather than a teacher. We arrive alone and together, 12 or 15 of us, and we simply practice yoga, sitting, sharing. Something subtle and close transforms because of this turning our discursive gaze inward. There is a luxurious break in the afternoons to hike, read, rest, or visit with each other. Transformation is not always a smooth ride. We have our practices, the support of the schedule, teachings, to hold us—and each other.

My favorite part of this retreat is when we individually choose a place outdoors, and practice solo the four postures of meditation. These beautiful places we choose offer us the chance to simply be in one area in nature, with no agenda. We understand the gentle wind, grasses, texture of rocks, as good friends, not just scenery. We can lean against a tree, close our eyes, listen, create a temporary nest.

It seems natural to pause, reflect, sit, gently move, talk and find silence amongst other women. This phrase, ‘Way Seeking Mind’ struck me when I first heard of it during a Zen women’s retreat. I hesitate to define it. It should speak directly to one’s heart and marrow, and not pause too long in any cerebral place. We have a sense of what that mind is—what that journey is. Or perhaps it is a big mystery.

This women’s summer retreat is special to me since it takes place in the eight-sided pavilion, which happens to be built on the old Girl Scout’s fire ring. This rustic pavilion is separate from the main area, tucked in the pines. The winter walls will be removed so that we experience a space both inside and outside—a living metaphor for our practice. To me, this is coming home to a place that has always been waiting—wild, familiar, natural. It’s reflected outside but of course, also in us.

The gap between what we experience and what we desire—inside and out—is not so far apart as we had imagined.

This retreat is now full.